WASHINGTON — With D.C. United building a new home and the Washington Redskins open to leaving FedExField early, Ted Leonsis made his first public comments about the future home of the Washington Wizards and Capitals.
“I am trying to build the most important, most influential regional sports and entertainment set of franchises in the world,” he told the Washington Post. “That’s my goal.”
But that might mean a move away from the Verizon Center, an entertainment venue responsible for the revitalization of downtown D.C.
The Verizon Center opened under a different name in 1997. At 19 years old, it is near middle age for a sports venue, currently the 13th oldest off 28 NBA facilities, and the 16th oldest of 30 NHL stadiums.
Leonsis owns and foots the bill for the Center–$36 million annually through 2023–a situation that he calls “the worst building deal in professional sports.” He has a point: most other sports teams play in municipally owned venues for between $3 million and $4 million annually.
But would he really prefer to move his team to the suburbs, or the nuclear option of going to a different city?
“My inclination right now would be: it’s pretty awesome where we are, and I love what’s happened to D.C.,” he explained. “But I don’t know what’s going to happen five, six, seven years from now. I will be a free agent. I mean, that hasn’t been lost on me.”
By 2018, naming rights for the Verizon Center will become available, negotiations for which could shed some light on Leonsis’ plans. By 2023, Leonsis will have the mortgage paid off, meaning that ownership of the Center could become profitable.
He could also keep his options open within the District, moving to the RFK Stadium location at a time when D.C. United will be moving into its new home at Buzzards Point.
The Washington Post reports that city officials have considered a future without the Verizon Center, something that the developers in the Downtown Business Improvement District have agreed to study.
In the meantime, Leonsis threw water on the whole idea of moving outside of the city, or perhaps moving anywhere at all. He certainly isn’t trying to build up a market with backroom negotiations.
“In terms of the Verizon Center, I’m being sincere: there’s been no discussions of would we look to move,” he said. “Have we talked to Virginia? We have not. Have we talked to Maryland? We have not. I would never do that.
“My goal would be stay where we are or stay within the city.”